Event — Buddhist Studies Lectures

Donors’ motivations and the assignment of merit in Āndhradeśa

The Indian epigraphic corpus relevant to the history of Buddhism still awaits to be systematically scrutinised to map the evolution and the regional and local specificities of donor’s aspirations and expectations. As a contribution to this undertaking, this presentation surveys the rich regional corpus of pre-7th c. inscriptions recovered from Āndhradeśa.

Lecture by Vincent Tournier, Associate Professor at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris.

Organisation: the Buddhist Studies Lectures are organised by IIAS and Prof. Jonathan Silk, Professor of Buddhist Studies at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).

While the practice of the so-called “transfer of merit” has been the object of much attention in the field of Buddhist Studies, the Indian epigraphic corpus still awaits to be systematically scrutinised in order to reconstruct the diachronic evolution and the regional and local specificities of donor’s aspirations and expectations. Inscriptions gain to be interpreted in light of both visual and literary sources, which allow scholars cultivating their “historical imagination” to understand patronage patterns, evolving imaginaires and their relation to shifting or eclectic scriptural norms.

Indeed, it may be argued that the way donors’ expectations are articulated in epigraphs depends on a variety of factors, including the religious leanings of the patron and the status of the beneficiaries, and that it also reflects the normative discourse of religious specialists active at given sites. Hence, the history of patronage naturally intersects with socio-political and institutional history. Moreover, the analysis of formulae of assignment (ādiś / uddiś) of merit reveals important points of textual intersection with prescriptive literature belonging to various genres (pan-Indian śāstric literature, Vinaya, Bodhisattva manuals). The coexistence in given records of a variety of mundane and supra-mundane goals deserves to be accounted for to understand the multiple rationales guiding the act of giving. Finally, many donative inscriptions represent a crystallized version of a performance having at its core the economy of merit.

This presentation will adopt a longue durée perspective and a regional focus. It will be grounded on the quantitative and qualitative analysis of a corpus of inscriptions stemming primarily from the digital epigraphic corpus Early Inscriptions of Āndhradeśa. This corpus under construction is dominated by Buddhist donative inscriptions and consists of above 700 epigraphs from the 2nd c. BCE till the 7th c. CE.

Vincent Tournier is Maître de conférences (Associate Professor) at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris. Trained at the university of Strasbourg and at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris), where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2012, he has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies. From 2013 to 2017 he was Lecturer in Buddhist Studies and Chair of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at SOAS University of London. Dr. Tournier’s main field of interest is the history of Buddhism in Ancient and Early Medieval South Asia. He has investigated models and figures of human perfection; the history of Buddhist schools, lineages, and centres; processes of scriptural formation and authentication; Buddhist cosmology and narrative representations of the past; patronage and donors’ aspirations. His publications include La formation du Mahāvastu et la mise en place des conceptions relatives à la carrière du bodhisattva (2017), and the online corpus Early Inscriptions of Āndhradeśa (edited with A. Griffiths).


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